Latest Marvel superhero blockbuster has the ‘bad guys’ take center stage
The Santa Clara
October 11, 2018
Why are villains always more interesting than heroes? Sometimes it’s because the latter are too generic. Other times, it’s because the former have everything to lose.
After more than a decade of morally upright Marvel superheroes, “Venom” seemed poised to shift the tide, ushering in a new era of supervillain-centric movies. Making a bigbudget blockbuster starring Venom—the cult comic book character known for his bouts with Spiderman—presented the perfect opportunity to make villainy sexy. Unfortunately, as with most films made on a $100 million budget, the movie shuns such an intriguing premise in favor of inoffensive superhero hijinks, somehow transforming a bloodthirsty alien parasite into man’s best friend.
“Venom” opens—as so many sci-fi movies do—with a spacecraft hurtling toward Earth’s fragile atmosphere. The ship crashes into a Malaysian jungle, allowing one of its four extraterrestrial cargo to escape into the wild (for those of you who have seen a movie before, you know it’ll be back). The three remaining specimens are shipped to San Francisco so billionaire Carlton Drake (played like a cliché Silicon Valley-visionary by Riz Ahmed) can pursue his dreams of altering the human genome for space travel.
For a movie that opens with a bang, “Venom” certainly takes its time cultivating the protagonist—the hard-nosed reporter Eddie Brock (an involved Tom Hardy)—and we should appreciate this much-needed breathing space. We see Eddie lose his job, fiancée and apartment in less than a day, and we actually get to sit with him long enough afterward to feel genuine sympathy as he struggles to make sense of his new life. Compared to most superhero movies (which dedicate their early moments to simply establishing the primary conflicts), these character-focused sections with Eddie enable the rest of the film to remain engaging.
Of course, this being a Marvel movie, we can’t spend too much time moping around with an unemployed reporter while he pines for his now ex-fiancée Anne Weying (an underused Michelle Williams)—we need to give the reporter superpowers as soon as possible. Overwhelmed by his journalistic impulses, Eddie breaks into the lab with the extraterrestrial “symbiotes,” and one of the slithery organisms—the titular Venom—ends up infecting Eddie.
This lab break-in scene showcases the decline of suspense in mainstream American filmmaking. Eddie strolls through the main halls of the lab without a single guard or security camera in sight, and the camera films the whole scene like a polished ad for a new gym. At one point, the camera moves onto an elevator as if to highlight an impending threat, but it’s only showing us the next step in Eddie’s journey.
This moment calls to mind a similarly botched suspense sequence (also featuring an elevator) in the high-trash “Red Sparrow.” But “Venom” lacks that film’s impending threat of violence to maintain its edge-of-your seat feeling. These filmmakers are more preoccupied with moving Eddie from point A to B, sacrificing mood and tension.
That said, once Eddie and Venom become a single entity, the film finally hits its stride. The two characters build an amusing interior rapport, and the ensuing comedy—and surprising humanity—drives the rest of the movie. When an incredulous Eddie wonders aloud if he can now scale extreme heights with Venom’s powers, Venom matter-of-factly replies, “Yeah, we just did.” These simple jokes never let up, and the movie is all the better for it.
While the movie eventually succumbs to the fuzzy, overwrought action scenes of its genre, “Venom” maintains its entertaining edge through a combination of unexpected humor and Cronenberg-lite body horror, justifying the increasingly unjustifiable cost of admission.
For a movie featuring a grotesque, parasitic monster with a penchant for separating human heads from their bodies, “Venom” regrettably eschews the villainous promise of its material. After shelling out $100 million to make the movie, the filmmakers cannot risk offending the masses by acknowledging the harsh reality of their wicked protagonist. Still, it’s the closest we’re gonna get to a midnight movie from the superhero genre, so let’s enjoy it for what it is: a fun night at the movies.
Contact Brandon Schultz at firstname.lastname@example.org or call (408) 554-4852.